A Christian view of the “laws of nature”

The term “laws of nature” are often used to speak of the observable patterns that exist within the universe.  For instance, when we let go of something it always falls.  We call this the law of gravity.  Observable patterns, such as gravity,  certainly exists.  Furthermore, it is good for us to understand and examine the created world around us.  But, is it really helpful for us to refer to these patterns that we observe as “laws of nature”?

Probably not.  I know, it seems as though I am splitting hairs on a minor issues.  However, I think as Christians we can think “better” on this issue (notice I am not saying “right” or “wrong”; “righteousness” or “sin”)

Colossians 1:17 says, “He [Jesus] is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.”  Here we see the real reason why the patterns we observe in creation remain constant.  It is Christ who hold together.  At this point some would object and say that God has established the “laws of nature” and uses those laws to hold together the universe.  While there is some truth to this, it seems to me that this view puts the emphasis on the wrong thing.  Rather than emphasizing the fact that God constantly and consistently is holding together creation this view almost makes it seem as if God created the world with natural laws and then took a step back.  More on this in a minute…

Don Petcher has written on this issue (I owe my some of my own thoughts on this to his writing).  Here is what he has to say,

It is only God in his providence who brings about his certain purposes for his creation, not through the laws of nature per se, but through his eternal decrees.  …The regularities of the universe are therefore not to be considered as built-in natural laws at all, but patterns that God lovingly covenants with his creation to uphold his radical sustenance. (Calvin and Culture: Exploring a Worldview, 172-173)

I really think that Petcher is on to something here.  And there are a few main reasons why I think it is important for Christians to see things from this perspective:

  1. It rightly understand Colossians 1:17.
  2. It is the difference between fatalism and God’s sovereignty – With this perspective our outlook on life–in light of God’s sovereignty–is not fatalistic because the personal God of the universe is immanently involved in the day-to-day operations of the universe.  Things don’t “have to happen” because the universe demands it.  “Things happen” because God is directing the events of the universe.
  3. It prevents us from moving toward a mechanist (i.e. deistic)  worldview.